Mailbag

The Mailbag: Is it Time to Go Back to Church after COVID Quarantine?

 

I desire to return to church and miss fellowshipping with other believers in person, but with the recent increase of virus cases in my area, I’m anxious about assembling even when wearing a mask and social distancing. The church I attend is currently offering services online and recently reopened. While they highly recommend wearing a mask during service, they will not force attendees to wear one. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

 

This is a great question as churches begin re-opening for on campus worship again. But, unfortunately, it’s not a question I can give a simplistic “go” or “don’t go” answer to. Everybody’s situation is different, everybody’s church is different, everybody’s health risks are different. This is a decision you will need to make prayerfully with your family, using biblical wisdom. If you’re not quite sure how to get started on that, I would suggest kicking things off by reading my article on making godly decisions: Basic Training: 8 Steps to Finding God’s Will for Your Life.

Here are some things to take into consideration as you make your decision:

What’s your potential risk? Contact your doctor to find out his opinion on whether or not attending church under these circumstances would genuinely put your health at risk. If you have a husband, children, or others who live in your home, find out from their doctors whether or not they are at risk either by attending themselves or by being around you if you attend without them. I want to stress contacting your doctor. Don’t try to figure it out yourself by reading things on the internet or chatting with friends. There is so much conflicting information, rumors, and unwise conventional wisdom running rampant out there that it’s impossible to sort it all out. Your doctor knows your body and your health history. Ask him.

What does your husband say? If you’re married, you and your husband should talk through and pray through this issue. Remember, you have a biblical obligation to submit to your husband’s final decision.

The fear factor: You’ll need to biblically evaluate the fearfulness of your heart about contracting the disease. Is it a mild, sensible concern that you harness for the glory of God to help you act wisely, or is it an all-consuming panic that prevents you from trusting God in order to do the things He has commanded you to do? If you lean toward the latter, you may have crossed the line into sinful fear, worry, and refusing to trust God. Understand that here we are setting aside for a moment the action of going/not going to church, and instead focusing on examining the motivation of your heart. Here are some passages of Scripture to meditate on and apply:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25-34
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:6-7
You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:9b-10
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? Psalm 118:6
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:7

Think back over the entirety of the Bible. Can you think of any instance in which God commends someone for being fearful instead of trusting Him?

Slouching toward laziness: I bring up laziness because this is a pull of the flesh that I’ve been feeling lately, so I figure at least a few others might be feeling it too. I am not a morning person. I am about as far from a morning person as you can get. And every Sunday of my life for the past 51 years, I’ve been dragging myself out of bed early on Sunday mornings to get ready for church, get the kids ready for church, get to the church, and behave in a godly manner once I get there. Of course, once I get there, I’m always glad to be in the Lord’s house worshiping with my brothers and sisters, but the part between waking up and being there? Not fun. So I’ll be honest, for the past several weeks I’ve enjoyed getting to sleep late on Sundays and ease into the day instead of being slammed with all of the getting ready to go hassle at the crack of dawn every Lord’s Day. And even though my family will be going back to church soon, I still feel that “I don’t wanna” pull of my flesh.

Is it possible there’s a little dash of laziness in the mix (for you or maybe another reader) when it comes to going back to church? I know that’s an issue for me, but I can’t answer that for you. You will need to prayerfully evaluate your heart against Scripture as you think all of this through. Here are a few verses to consider:

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. Proverbs 6:10-11 and 24:33-34 (This verse is talking about the literal poverty that comes from being lazy instead of working, but, in principle, it can also apply to the spiritual poverty and want that will result from sleeping in and skipping church.)
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Proverbs 13:4
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17

Are you forsaking the assembly? Throughout the entirety of the Bible, God’s people are a people who assemble together. It’s assumed. A given. There’s no such animal as Christians who don’t physically assemble, face to face, real time, together. But just in case we miss that assumption, God graciously tells us flat out:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, that verse doesn’t mean we have to be at the church every time the doors are open for every meeting, class, fellowship, or activity in order to be obedient to God’s command to be faithful to the church. Nor does it mean we can treat church attendance as optional, going only when we feel like it, or when there’s nothing “more important” scheduled in that time slot. Nor does it mean that watching an online service equals physically showing up and participating in worship, teaching, service, prayer, the ordinances, etc. (That’s not going to church. That’s watching other people go to church.) It means we’re to be faithful to our church attendance unless Providentially hindered.

Are you truly Providentially hindered from attending church? I don’t know. That’s something you’re going to have to get into your prayer closet and be brutally honest with yourself and with God about. Are you wisely staying home from church temporarily because your doctor says you’re at high risk for contracting the virus under your church’s protocols, or are you actually forsaking the assembly and making excuses because you’re unbiblically fearful or lazy or disobedient? That is something each of us will have to discern in our own hearts and give an account to God for.

Follow the leader: Our culture indoctrinates us into rugged individualism and independence so much that we often don’t even realize it when we make decisions and adopt stances without even taking our pastors’ and elders’ leadership into consideration. I know I’ve been guilty of that many times. But here’s what the Bible says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Hebrews 13:17-19

Unless our pastors/elders are leading us contrary to Scripture, or we are somehow Providentially hindered from following their guidance, Scripture says we’re to graciously follow their leadership. If your pastor/elders have determined, after weighing spiritual and health concerns, that it’s most in line with Scripture to start meeting again with the protocols you’ve described, at least let their shepherding play a significant role in your decision-making process. That’s not nothing. It’s part of the way the Holy Spirit leads us. Let’s not call out to Him for wisdom and guidance and then ignore or oppose one of His methods for doing just that.

If you need some help understanding or accepting the decisions your pastor has made, call him, set up an appointment with him, or video chat with him, and listen to what he has to say – not with the goal of arguing your position against his, but with the goal of understanding and doing whatever you can to follow his leadership.

And just as the author of Hebrews urged the church – pray for your pastor and elders. They’re doing their best, in good conscience, to lead you in a godly, biblical, honorable way, and we all want to be restored to meeting together again as soon as that becomes possible.

Trust God’s sovereignty and care. Is God powerful enough to keep you from getting the virus? Might He allow you to contract the virus in order to glorify Himself and grow you spiritually in the process? If so, does He have the power to heal you? If you contract the virus and die from it, is that because God couldn’t stop you from dying?

We desperately need to remember that God is in complete control of every atom of this universe. If it is not within His will for you to contract the virus, you won’t. If it is within His will for you to contract the virus, all the masks, social distancing, handwashing, and quarantines in the world won’t prevent you from catching it. Does that mean we throw caution to the wind, asking infected people to sneeze on us, or jumping off buildings, or walking in front of speeding trains, or handling snakes? Of course not, because acting like an idiot doesn’t glorify God, and putting Him to the test is a sin.

What it means is that we strive to walk wisely and obediently to Him, trusting Him all along the way with the outcome. Getting the Coronavirus, even dying from the Coronavirus isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a Christian. The worst thing that can transpire in the life of a Christian is sin. Failure to trust God. Giving something lesser than God the authority and control over your life.

Do we really trust that God is in control? And if we don’t, why would we trouble ourselves about going to church and worshiping a god so impotent that he can’t protect us from getting the virus, or heal us from the virus, or take us home to Heaven if we die of the virus?

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Isaiah 50:2b
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:9-10
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:5
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8

Additional Resources:

“If You Skip Church on Christmas You’re Probably Not Even Saved” and Other Holiday Nonsense

Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

M-m-m-my Corona(virus) in the 3/20/20 edition of Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources

Church was never meant to be remote: Reuniting after COVID-19 at A Word Fitly Spoken

Glad You Asked! Sarah lied?, COVID-19 & church, and more! at A Word Fitly Spoken (~11:25)


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

5 thoughts on “The Mailbag: Is it Time to Go Back to Church after COVID Quarantine?”

  1. Such a thorough answer! I have been prone to sinful fear and worry at the beginning of the pandemic and this has been instrumental in learning how to truly trust in God. I think it’s humorous that all of these news articles are saying that doctors and researchers still don’t reall know the virus is spreading or how it affects some and not others. Well, as Christians, we have the answer: God! He controls exactly what the virus does and where it goes. I find that a most comforting though during this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! I have been struggling with the the fear of having COVID, not knowing I do and passing it onto to someone else. What you said applies to this situation as well. Our God is sovereign over whether we get COVID or pass it on to someone else. This pandemic shows our human pride and hubris—“we” (the world) think we can understand it and control it and yet we do not understand it and definitely do not have control over it

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  3. HI, Michelle, a couple of thoughts. Regarding your verses about fear. I don’t think Jesus words preclude taking normal sensible precautions such as saving money, planning, etc. But yes, our Father cares for us. The way I see the verses about not fearing mean that ultimately “All is well with my soul” regardless of the outcome (remembering that some verses such as in Psalms had particular reference to an individual such as David) Obviously we as Christians are not protected from any and all disasters. So, even if I die from this disease, or whatever other thing that could happen, I will be with the Lord.

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    1. Hi Juanita- Thanks for your comment. (I edited out your third point, not because I agree or disagree, but because I don’t want the comments section to devolve into yet another pro- / anti- mask argument. Even though I know that wasn’t your intent, people are operating on a hair trigger these days. :0)

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